But I recently acquired from my mother her bread recipe, which I remember very clearly from when I was a child. I daresay I could have made the recipe in my bread machine, but that's not how she did it, so somehow that felt all wrong. Plus after five years I was starting to think that it would be nice to have a loaf of bread without a hole in its bottom from where the mixing paddle has been pulled out. And part of me also felt a bit of a fraud; making all this bread, but not actually doing anything more taxing than weighing ingredients. Can that really be called bread making?
So I copied down her recipe, came home and set to work making my first handmade loaf. The recipe, because it dated from my childhood, was in imperial measurements. I can't think in imperial measurements at all. The metric system must be hard wired in me. Even with all the sewing I do I find it very hard to visualise an inch, but no problem at all to visualise a centimetre. I know how much meat I will get when I ask the butcher for 500g of beef mince, but I have no idea what 1lb of sugar looks like.
I started putting together ingredients, and letting the yeast ferment, not really paying too much attention to the quantities I was weighing out. And you know what, it turns out that 3lb is an absolutely ENORMOUS amount of flour. Who knew? Not me.
I found myself with so much bread dough it was spilling over the top of my mixer bowl. I put the dough into tins, dotted them around the house, and the dough kept on rising and growing. I dug out more tins (circular cake tins, because I had used all my loaf tins) and divided the dough, but still it kept growing. It was like The Sorcerer's Apprentice, but with bread rather than water.
I ended up with so many loaves of bread that I filled almost a whole drawer in the freezer with them.
The bread was absolutely delicious though, and when we'd cleared the freezer we still wanted to eat more. Just in saner, smaller quantities please. So I put the original recipe into Excel, converted it into metric and scaled it down considerably. And here, for all of you to enjoy, is the amended version of my mother's delicious homemade bread.
The List Writer's Childhood Bread
For one loaf of bread you will need:
- either a 1lb or 2lb loaf tin (I know, I know - those darned imperial measurements again, but it seems that bread tins are still made and sold in imperial sizes. Note to Lakeland and other cookware retailers - please go metric with your bread tins; this is 2010). Either size tin works. If using the bigger tin, you will end up with a wider, shallower loaf, which I rather like.
- 300g wholemeal bread flour (I use this one from Abel & Cole)
- 150g white granary flour (I use this one by Allinson's)
- 280ml hand hot water (this is pretty hot - as hot as you can bear while still able to put a finger in without flinching)
- 1 heaped teaspoon dried yeast (I use this one from Doves Farm)
- 1 heaped teaspoon of molasses or black treacle (I use Tate & Lyle's red tin)
When the yeast mixture has risen, add it to the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl, and also add the remaining half (140ml) of the hand hot water. Mix everything together and knead the dough until it is no longer sticky, but feels slightly elastic. You can do this by hand, in a food processor with a dough paddle, or in a mixer with a dough hook.
Then put the ball of dough into a clean, lightly oiled bowl. You can also lightly oil your loaf tin at the same time.
Put a cloth over the bowl and leave your dough somewhere nice and warm to rise. I stick mine on the floor, in the hall, underneath a radiator. If it suits you to have a slow rise, you don't need to put the dough in a warm place. If you want it to rise overnight, you can even put it in the fridge (covered). The warmer the place, the faster it will rise.
When the dough has grown to roughly double the size it first was, give it a punch to deflate it, and then press it into your oiled bread tin. Cover the tin and leave it to rise again until the dough is nearing the top of the tin.
Then all that's left to do is put it in the oven at Gas 6 (or 205 Celsius) for 30 minutes. When you take it out of the oven, tip it out of the tin right away. Tap the bottom of the loaf and it should sound hollow. If it does not, put it back in the tin and back in the oven for another five minutes.
Leave to cool and then enjoy. I love it as simple bread and butter, but it reaches new heights of gorgeousness when toasted and spread with honey. Yum.